Expiration Date – Snippet 20

Expiration Date – Snippet 20

CHAPTER 20

“Don’t keep him waiting, child! Why, his time is worth a thousand pounds a minute!”

–Lewis Carroll,

Through the Looking-Glass

Hunching and hopping along the walkway that flanked the Ahmanson Theater, moving in and out of the fleeting shade of the strips of decorative roof so narrow and so far overhead that they could serve as shelter only against a preternaturally straight-falling rain, Sherman Oaks followed his missing, pointing arm. The nonexistent arm was so hot that the rest of him felt chilly, as if he were reaching out the door of an air conditioned bar in Death Valley, out into the harsh sunlight. And he was sniffing vigorously, for the boy Koot Hoomie Parganas had moved through this place not long ago, and he could strongly smell the big ghost that the boy carried.

Run, he read in the impressions still shaking in the air, a long run, fleeing under a masked sun on the front of a train, running . . . on all fours? With long nails clicking on pavement! What the hell?

His missing arm practically dragged him around the moat that encircled the giant wedding cake of the Mark Taper Forum, and then the stair railing across the pavement ahead of him seemed to be the only focused thing in the landscape; everything else, even the incongruous ragged pile of raw meat by the Taper’s entry doors, was a blur. He was close!

At the top of the stairs he came to a full stop, and then cautiously peered down–and his heart began pounding still harder, for a dead old man was sprawled down there on the blood-smeared concrete stairs.

I should get right out of here, he thought–hop over this deceased old party and continue on the kid’s trail.

But as he shuffled down the steps he realized that the thing on the stairs was not actually a man; it was a limply collapsed dummy, stitched into a coarse black coat of badly woven fur. But the imbecilically distorted face, and the white hands, seemed to be made of flesh–and the spattered and smeared blood looked real. It smelled real.

Oaks paused to crouch over the crumpled shell. He emptied his lungs through his open mouth, hearing the faint outraged stadium roar of all the ghosts he had inhaled over the years; and then he inhaled deeply, flaring his nostrils and tilting his head back and swelling his chest.

He caught the flat muskiness of ectoplasm, the protean junk that squirted out of mediums to lend substance to ghosts . . . but he smelled real flesh, too, and real blood.

Dog flesh, he realized as he sucked up more of the charged air. Dog blood.

No wonder he had caught an impression moments ago of running on all fours! Someone had vaporized a dog to get substance for rilling out a figure too big and solid for ectoplasm alone. And a prepubescent kid wouldn’t be able to provide much ectoplasm anyway.

The big ghost had done this, had made this thing. Why? The ghost must have perceived itself to be in some emergency, for this would have been a very stressful move.

Oaks stared down at the flat head of the thing. This would have to be a portrait of the big ghost that the kid was carrying: white hair, a pouchy and wrinkled face . . .

Who the hell was it? Probably someone famous, certainly someone powerful, to judge by the huge psychic field that his ghost projected. The face, broad and big-chinned and dominant even deflated on the steps here, looked vaguely familiar to Oaks . . . but from a long time ago. Briefly and uneasily, Oaks wondered how old he himself might be, really; but he pushed the question away and thought about the ghost who had left this thing here.

Whoever it was, he had died at the Parganas house on Loma Vista two nights ago–or at least that’s where and when his spanking-new ghost had appeared, blazing in the psychic sky like a nova–and the Parganas couple had chosen to die horribly rather than tell Oaks anything at all.

Oaks stared at the blood on the steps here, and he remembered following the powerful new ghost’s beacon all the way across town to that house in Beverly Hills on Monday night. By the time Oaks had got there, the ghost was gone, headed south, but Oaks had stayed to find out who it had been, and who had taken it away, in the hope of avoiding this weary labor of following every step of the thing’s trail. He remembered his useless torturing of the middle-aged man and woman in that garden-type patio off the living room. As soon as he had taped the two of them into the chairs and started questioning them, they had gone into some kind of defensive trance; and Oaks, fearful of being caught there, had got angry and had cut them more and more savagely, and after he had finally cut out their very eyes he had realized that they had died at some point.

After that, still angry, he had set about searching the house. And then the kid had come home–very late, not far short of dawn–and when Oaks had gone into the living room the dead couple’s ghosts had been standing in there! Blinking around stupidly, but as solid as you could ask for, and them only an hour dead at the most!

He should have known right then that the big ghost had come back, and that it was the big ghost’s promiscuous field that had lit up the two silly new ghosts in their wedding clothes. But the trail had been looped right back onto itself at that point, and too grossly powerful for Oaks to comprehend that it had doubled when the kid entered the scene. And anyway, the kid had taken off like an arrow out of a bow; and the boy had run out of the house through that garden patio, which could only have speeded him up still more.

Oaks hopped over the bloody mess on the stairs and stepped down to the cement-floored landing–apparently this was a parking level–but after a couple of steps he froze.

His phantom left arm wasn’t pointing anymore; it had flopped nervelessly, and he couldn’t feel anything at all in it. He tried to work the hand–usually when the arm was down by his side he could rasp the lingers against the hairy skin of his thigh, whether or not he happened to be wearing long pants–but the nonexistent fingers sensed nothing now but, perhaps, a faint cool breeze sluicing between them. The trail was gone.

Had the ghost freed itself from the kid and evaporated? That would be bad–Oaks was getting thin, and for the last thirty or forty hours he had been passing up the chance to eat smaller ghosts, in his anxiety not to miss this big feast. Or had the kid somehow all at once attained puberty this morning, enabling him to eat and digest the ghost himself?

Oaks’s face was chilly with alarm–but after a moment he relaxed a little. Whatever had happened here, whatever it was that had provoked the ghost into whipping up this ectoplasmic mannikin . . . the whole event must have been a terrible shock to the kid, too. In his terror the boy might very well have just clathrated the ghost, convulsively enclosed it within his own psyche but not assimilated it–encysted the thing, shoved it down, walled it up tightly inside himself.

That could happen, Oaks knew; and if it had, the locked-in ghost wouldn’t be detectable from the outside.

Like that one time when Houdini . . .

The fleeting thought was gone, leaving only an association: Jonah and the whale. Sherman Oaks hurried back up the stairs, stepping carelessly right on the limp face this time, and when he was back up on the pavement he hopped over a retaining wall by the valet parking driveway and strode away south on the Hope Street sidewalk.

Houdini? Jonah and the whale? God knew what memory had started to surface there–something from the time before he had come into this present continuity-of-consciousness three years ago, in the district of Sherman Oaks, from which he had whimsically taken this present name. Again, he wondered, briefly and uneasily, how old he might really be, and when and how he might have lost his left arm.

To his right, across the street, the elevated pools around the Metropolitan Water District building reflected the watery blue sky. Oaks calculated that the time could hardly be even an hour past noon, but the pale sun had already begun to recede, having come as far up above the southern horizon as it cared to in this season. North was behind him, and the thought prompted him to sneak a glance down at the pommel of the survival knife he wore inside his pants.

When he had stolen the knife, its hollow hilt had been full of things like fishhooks and matches. He had replaced that stuff with reliable compact ghost lures–a nickel with a nail welded to the back so that it could be hammered into a wooden floor, where it would confound the patient efforts of ghosts to pick it up, and some pennies stamped with the Lincoln profile smoking a pipe, another surefire ghost-attention holder–but he had valued the screw-on pommel, which had a powerful magnetic compass bobbing around in its glass dome.

But right now, the compass was pointing firmly, uselessly, north. And his gone left arm was still sensing nothing at all. The ghost was effectively hidden inside the boy’s mind now–Oaks was sure that that was what had happened–and, at least for as long as the ghost remained concealed, Oaks would have to track Koot Hoomie Parganas without any psychic beacons or Hansel-and-Gretel trails at all. And now, when he found the boy, he would probably have to kill him to get the big ghost out and eat it–and of course eat the boy’s ghost too, as a garnish. A paisley child.

It occurred to Sherman Oaks that he might be smart to get to a telephone–and damn quick.

He walked faster, and then began jogging, hoping that in spite of his stained windbreaker and camouflage pants, he looked like someone getting exercise and not like somebody in murderous pursuit.

***

Clouds as solid and white as sculptured marble were shifting across the blue vault of the sky, south from the San Fernando Valley and down the track of the Hollywood Freeway, graying the woods and lawns of Griffith Park and tarnishing the flat water of the Silverlake Reservoir. Chilly shade swept over the freeway lanes and across the area of wide dirt lots and isolated old Victorian houses west of the Pasadena Freeway, and the squat wild palms shook their shaggy heads in the wind. Pedestrians around Third and Sixth Streets began to move more quickly . . . though one toiling small figure on the Witmer Street sidewalk didn’t increase its pace.

Kootie was limping worse than ever, but he made himself keep moving. Raffle had been meticulous about divvying up their panhandling income, and Kootie had a pocketful of change as well as forty-six dollars in bills–eventually he would get on a bus, and then get on another, and eventually, ideally, sleep on one, and then tomorrow think of some durable sanctuary (church, stow away on a ship, hide somewhere on a “big rig eighteen-wheeler”, go to the police, hide in a–). But right now, he needed the sensation of motion–of ground being covered–that only working his legs and abrading the soles of his shoes could give him.

Kootie had stopped being angry at Raffle, and was instead panicked and dismayed at having lost the only person in Los Angeles, in the world, who’d cared to help him. Kootie was certain that if he hadn’t been such a stupid kid, he could somehow have talked Raffle out of turning him in, and they could right now have been driving to get Raffle’s dope somewhere, happy in the car, with Fred licking their faces. Kootie winced as he stepped down off a high curb, and he wondered what Fred was doing now; probably right this minute Fred was sharing Kootie’s own personal heated-up tamale with Raffle in some safe parking lot.

Kootie’s pelvis and right hip ached, as if he’d recently tried doing one of those Russian crouch-and-kick dances and then finished with a full butt-to-the-floor split–but he was trying not to think about it, for the mysterious muscle strain was a result of whatever had gone on during the time he had been blacked out at the Music Center, when the ghost of the old man had been in control of his body.

God only knew what the old man had done. Fallen awkwardly? Karate-kicked somebody? Kootie would have expected more dignity from Thomas Alva Edison.

There it was, he had thought about it. The ghost had been Edison–as in the SCE logo, painted on the doors of the Halloween-colored black-and-orange trucks. Southern California Edison–the guy that invented the lightbulb. Kootie’s parents had always told him not to play with lightbulbs, that there was a poisonous “noble gas” in them; in school he had found out that they’d been thinking of neon lights, and that neon wasn’t poisonous anyway. But there had been a poison in the glass brick hidden in the Dante statue, for sure.

Noble gas my ass, he thought defiantly as he blinked away tears. You old . . . shithead! What were you doing in that test tube inside the glass brick anyway?

Duh, he thought, replying for the absent Edison, I dunno.

You got my mom and dad killed! And now everybody wants to kill me too.

Duh. Sorry.

Moron.

Kootie remembered the face on the top of the bloody framework he had pulled off himself, but a shudder torqued through him, almost making him miss his footing on the cracked sidewalk. It was apparently far too soon to think about that episode, and he found that he had focused his eyes on the stucco walls, bright orange even in the shadow of the clouds, of a ninety-nine-cent store on the corner ahead of him. Two pay telephones were perched under metal hoods on a post by the parking-lot curb.

Al, he thought nervously, quoting the old woman who had moaned to him out of the payphone receiver on Fairfax this morning, where am I gonna meet you tonight?

Al. Alva. Thomas Alva Edison. And in the hallucination he’d had–

Again, he shied away from the memory of being dislocated out of his own body–but he was sure that it had been the Edison ghost that the old woman had been trying to talk to. She had known the name–the nickname!–of the ghost Kootie had been carrying around. To the people who live in the magical alleys of the world, Kootie thought, that ghost must have been sticking out like a sore thumb.

But the ghost was gone now! Kootie had left it torn and deflated on the steps at the–

Involuntarily, he exhaled, hard enough to have blown out a whole birthday cake full of candles, if one had been here. (Raffle had told him that in these neighborhoods, they generally hung paper-skinned figures from trees on kids’ birthdays, and then beat the things with sticks until they split apart, at which point the kids would scramble for the little cellophane-wrapped hard candies that spilled onto the dirt from the broken paper abdomens.)

The ghost was gone now, that was the important thing. Maybe telephones would work, for Kootie, now.

He flexed the fingers of his right hand and slowly reached down and dug in his jeans pocket for a quarter. Who would he call?

The police, for sure.

Kootie’s teeth were cold, and he realized that he was smiling. He would call the police, and the one-armed bum wouldn’t follow him anymore, not after, the bum stumbled across the–

After the bum came to the end of the ghost’s trail.

And then Kootie would be put in . . . some kind of home, finally, with showers and bathrooms and beds and food. Eventually he’d be adopted, by some family. He’d be able to see any movies he wanted to see . . .

His teeth were still cold, but he was sobbing now, to his own horror and astonishment. I want my own family, he thought. I want my own house and my own mom and dad. Maybe they aren’t dead–(in those bloody chairs)–of course they aren’t dead, they were standing in the living room in formal clothes (ignoring me in such a scary way) and probably they’re the ones that hired the billboards and posted the reward!

He needed to know, he needed to throw himself somewhere now, and he ran to the telephones even though the pain of running wrung whimpers through his clenched teeth.

When he had rolled the quarter into the slot, he punched in 9-1-1.

After two rings, a woman’s voice said, calmly, “Nine-one-one operator, is this an emergency?”

“I’m Koot Hoomie Parganas,” said Kootie quickly. “My parents were–were robbed and beaten up, real bad, night before last, and there’s billboards with my picture on ’em, and a reward–” Kootie was suddenly dizzy, and he actually had to clutch the receiver tightly to keep from falling. He swung around on the pivot of his good heel until his shoulder hit the phone’s aluminum cowl. When he had straightened up, he had a quick impression that someone was behind him, wanting to use the phone, but he looked around and saw no one near him. “–a reward,” he went on, “that’s being offered for me. My mom and dad live on Loma Vista Street in Beverly Hills and there was–”

A man’s voice interrupted him. “Parganas?” the man said alertly.

“Yes.”

“Just a sec. Hey,” the man said away from the phone, “it’s the Parganas kid!” More loudly, he added, “It’s Koot Hoomie!”

The phone at the other end was put down with a clunk on something hard. In the background, Kootie could hear a lot of people talking, and a clatter like a cafeteria. He heard glass break, and a voice mumble “Fuck.”

There was a rattling on the line as someone picked up the distant phone. “Koot Hoomie?”

It was his mother’s voice! She was alive! He was sobbing again, but he managed to say, clearly, “Mom, come and get me.”

There was a moment of relative silence, broken only by mumbling and clattering at the other end; then, “Keth-oomba!” his mother exclaimed. (Was she drunk? Was everybody drinking there in the dispatcher’s office?) Kootie remembered that Kethoomba was the Tibetan pronunciation of the name of the mahatma his parents had named him after. She had never called Kootie that. “Gelugpa,” she went on, “yellow-hatted monk! Come and get me!”

“Gimme that phone,” said someone in the background. “Master!” came the quavering voice of Kootie’s father. “We’ll be out front!” Quietly, as if speaking off to the side of the receiver, Kootie’s father asked someone, “Where are we?”

“Fock you,” came a thick-voiced reply.

“Dad,” shouted Kootie. “It’s me, Kootie! I need you to come get me! I’m at–” He poked his head out into the breeze and tried to see a street sign. He couldn’t see one up or down the gray street. “They trace these calls, ask the dispatcher where I’m calling from. Have ’em send a cop car here quick.”

“Don’t go outside!” called his father to someone in the noisy room. “Cop cars!” Then, breathily, back into the mouthpiece: “Kootie?”

“Yes, Dad! Are you all drunk? Listen–”

“No, you listen, young man. You broke the Dante–don’ interrupt–you broke the, the Dante, let the light shine out before anything was prepared–well, it’s your son, if you mus’ know–”

Then Kootie’s mother was on the line again. “Kootie! Put the master back on!”

Kootie was crying harder now. Something was terribly wrong. “There’s nobody here but me, Mom. What’s the matter with you? I’m lost, and that guy–there’s bad guys following me–”

“We need the master to pick’s up!” his mother interrupted, her voice slurred but loud. “Put ‘im on!”

“He’s not here!” wailed Kootie; his ear was wet with wind-driven tears or sweat, and chilly because he was now holding the phone several inches away from his head. “I called. My name is Koot Hoomie, remember? I’m alone!”

“You killed us!” his mother yelled. “You broke the Dante, you couldn’t wait, and then the . . . forces of darkness! . . . found us, and killed us! I’m dead, your father’s dead, because you disobeyed us! And now the master hasn’t called! You’re bad, Kootie, you’re ba-a-ad.”

“She’s right, son,” interjected Kootie’s father. “Iss your fault we’re dead and Kethoomba’s off somewhere. Get over here now.”

Kootie couldn’t imagine the room his parents were in–it sounded like some kind of bar–but he was suddenly certain of what they were wearing. The same formal wedding clothes. In the background there, a little girl was reciting a poem about how some flower beds were too soft . . . and then a hoarse woman’s voice said, “Tell him to put Al on, will ya?”

Kootie hung up the phone. The wind was colder on this street now, and the sky’s gray glow made opaque smoke of the windshields on the passing cars.

His quarter clattered into the coin-return slot. Apparently, there was no charge on 9-1-1 calls.

***

And ten blocks east of Kootie, leaning against bamboo-pattern wallpaper at the back of a steamy Thai takeout restaurant, Sherman Oaks pressed another pay-telephone receiver to his ear.

At the other end of the line, a man answered, recited the number Oaks had called, and said, “What category?”

“I don’t know,” said Oaks, “Missing Persons? It’s about that kid, Koot Hoomie Parganas, the one on the billboards.”

“Koot Hoomie sightings, eh?” Oaks could hear the rippling clicking of a computer keyboard. “You speak English,” the operator noted.

The remark irritated Oaks. Probably he had always spoken English. “Most people don’t?”

“Been getting a lot of Kootie calls from illegal immigrants: ‘Tengo el nino, pero no estoy en el pais legalimente.’ Got the kid, but got no green card. Looking for a second party to pick up the reward. There must be fifty curly-haired stray kids locked in garages in L.A. right now. One of ’em might even be the right one, though he hasn’t been turned in yet, or this category would be closed out. Okay, what? You’ve got him, you know where he is? We’ve got a bonded outfit checking all reasonable claims, and a representative can be anywhere in the greater Los Angeles area within ten minutes.”

“What I’ve got,” Oaks said, “is a counteroffer.” He looked around at the other people in the tiny white-lit restaurant–they all seemed to be occupied with their takeout bags and cardboard cartons, and even the obtrusive smells of cilantro and chili peppers seemed to combine with the staccato voices and the sizzle of beef and shrimp on the griddle to provide a screen of privacy for the phone. “You know smoke? Cigar? The Maduro Man?”

“It’s a different category, but I can call it up.”

“Well, I can put up–” Oaks paused to pull his attention away from the bright agitation of the restaurant, and he ran a mental inventory of the three major caches he kept, hidden out there in corners of the dark city; he pictured the dusty boxes of empty-looking but tightly sealed jars and bottles and old crack vials–he even had a matched pair, an elderly matrimonial suicide pact, locked up in the two snap-lid receptacles of a clear plastic contact lens case. “I can put up a thousand doses of L.A. cigar in exchange for the kid. Even wholesale, that’s a lot more than twenty grand.”

He heard more keyboard clicking. “Yeah, it is.” The man sighed. “Well, for that we’d need a guarantor, somebody we’ve got listed, who can put up forty grand. Counteroffers have to be double, house policy. If we get that, we’ll go ahead and list it under the Parganas heading. But the guarantor would have to do all the other work, like maybe putting a trap on the reward number phone and being ready to intercept anybody who, you know, might already have the kid and be trying to get the original reward. I don’t have to tell you that hours count in this one. Minutes, even.”

“I know.”

Oaks looked down at the compass in the pommel of his knife–right now it was pointing up in the direction of Dodger Stadium, which was plain old north, but a few minutes ago it had joggled wildly and then, for what must have been nearly a full minute, pointed emphatically west. After that it had wobbled back to north, and he hadn’t seen it deviate from that normal reading since.

During it all, he had felt no heat in his absent arm–but the compass had clearly registered a brief reemergence of the big ghost; and the ghost had been in the excited state, too, for ghosts didn’t cast the huge magnetic fields when they were in their normal quiescent ground state. It was clathrated in the boy’s psyche, and not dissipated or eaten. Oaks was achingly anxious to get off the phone and resume his jogging pursuit–westward!–but this insurance was worth a minute’s delay.

“So, who’s your guarantor?” the man on the phone was asking him. “Or do you have forty grand yourself, to put up instead of your smoke?”

“No, not me. Uh . . .” The street dealers he ordinarily sold to wouldn’t have this kind of money ready to hand. He would have to go higher up. “You got a Neal Obstadt listed?” Oaks asked. “Under gambling, probably, I think that’s his main business.”

“Yeah, I got Obstadt.” (Clickety-click.) “What do I tell him? Even for him, forty ain’t just lunch money.”

Oaks had heard Obstadt described as a heavy user, a good customer who was generally able to score the best specimens in the dealers’ stocks. “Tell him it’s from the guy named Sherman Oaks, the producer who brought you such hits as–I hope you’re taping this?”

“Always got a loop going.”

“Such hits as Henrietta Hewitt, the old lady who died on September fifth and whose kids were named Edna and Sam.” It was a fairly long shot, but old Henrietta had been the best ghost Oaks had bottled lately, and anyway Obstadt might very well recognize Oaks’s name and reputation. He might not, but the possibility of changing the Parganas listing was definitely worth this delay.

“I’ll play it for him. I imagine he’ll want to tape your voice himself, as your receipt for the money, if he goes for it. Are you at a number?”

“No, I’ll call back in an hour. But if he authorizes it, you can list it on the board right now, can’t you?”

“Yup. As soon as he says okay, it’s on, and the . . . mere mercenary details are between you and him.”

“Go,” said Oaks, and hung up the phone.

Immediately, he wondered if he was making a costly mistake. He could easily get to all of his stashes within a hopping hour or two, but turning it all over to Obstadt’s people would leave Oaks with approximately nothing. He might even have to kill a few street people to make up the full thousand bottled doses. But, of course, he wouldn’t have to cough up the smoke unless he received the Parganas boy, and the big ghost inside the boy was clearly worth a thousand ordinary bottled dead folk. The nightly fresh catches in his traps would keep Oaks going until he could build up reserve stocks again.

He could feel his missing arm again, but it was just clutching his chest, and it was as uselessly cold as if it were cradling a bag of ice. He actually looked down at his grubby shirt-front and was remotely surprised not to see the fabric bunched by the clawed fingers. His compass was still pointing north–either the ghost was in the normal catatonic ground state, or was reimprisoned inside the boy’s psyche, or both.

The burning-plastic smells of sizzling shrimp and cilantro helped propel him across the linoleum floor and out onto the Figueroa sidewalk.

Oaks despised the processes of biological ingestion and digestion and elimination, and he generally lived on crackers, and bean soup fingered up cold and solid right out of a can, and water from unguarded hoses and faucets. His real sustenance was his ghosts, snorted up raw and new and vibrant from a hand-lettered palindrome or a pile of scattered coins, or–occasional serendipitous luxuries!–furtively inhaled in hospital corridors or from a body freshly tumbled on the street.

He remembered stalking the halls of County Hospital during the war, when every one of the hundreds of windows had been painted black in case of a Japanese air raid, and the ghosts of newly dead patients were too fearful to dissipate normally, and instead huddled in the corners of the halls, always faintly asking him, as he swept them into his bottles, “Are the Japs out there?” . . . And the maternity ward at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, where he had often been able to inhale the fresh-cast virtual ghosts thrown off by newborn infants in the stress of birth . . .

But it was now getting on to forty-eight hours since he had last “got a life”–which had been before he’d gone to the Parganas house. He hadn’t even bothered to consume the ghosts of Kootie’s parents after he killed them, so confident had he been that the big ghost must still be nearby; he had not wanted to waste the chase-time by pausing to eat those two minor items.

Out on the sidewalk he realized that the day had turned cold, and that the gray light would be diminishing toward evening before too long. Already the zigzag neon sign of a shoe store across the street was glowing yellow against the ash-colored wall. An orange-and-black SCE truck roared past, and he flinched away–from the roaring of it.

Those two minor items. Oaks would have been grateful for one such minor item right now. One lungful of real soul food, to keep away the Bony Express.

For he could feel the unrest of the ghosts he had consumed in the past. When he was forced to fast, they all became agitated, and his exhalations were more and more audibly wheezy with their less and less distant roars, as if they were all riding toward him–the Bony Express!–ever closer, over the midnight black hills of the unmapped borderlands of his mind, toward the lonely middle-of-nowhere campfire that was his consciousness.

His phantom left hand had crawled down his chest and now gripped his abdomen, squeezing so hard that Oaks was wincing as he hurried west along the Sixth Street sidewalk. He thought of making a detour, catching a bus up to–which stash was he nearest to?–the rooftop air conditioning shed over the hair salon on Bellevue; but the thought of how strongly the compass needle had pointed west only a few minutes ago, and the memory of the collapsed face on the parking garage stairs at the Music Center, made him keep on putting one foot ahead of the other on the westward-leading sidewalk.

Mouth-to-mouth unsuscitation, with Koot Hoomie Parganas’s body still twitching under him in protest at being so newly dead, and the two souls, the boy’s and the big ghost, blasting hotly down Oaks’s windpipe to his starving lungs.

Soon, he thought.

 

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